Robert T. Singleton
The pioneering University of Maryland cardiologist was a World War II veteran and loved opera
Dr. Robert T. Singleton, a pioneering cardiologist, World War II veteran and opera lover who served for 25 years as director of the cardiovascular laboratory at what is now the University of Maryland Medical Center, died of gastrointestinal bleeding Sept. 12 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The Catonsville resident was 93. “He was a doctor’s doctor,” said a son, Robert T. Singleton Jr., 61, of Reisterstown. “He always said he never felt like he worked a day in his life. He loved what he did.”
Dr. Singleton specialized in cardiac catheterization, a procedure that involves inserting a tube into a vein or artery to detect and treat blockages, said Dr. Paul Gurbel, director of interventional cardiology at Inova Heart and Vascular Institute in Fairfax, Va., who trained under Dr. Singleton and later worked with him.
In 1982, Dr. Singleton became one of the first in Baltimore to attempt a balloon angioplasty, a process in which a small balloon on a catheter is inserted into a partially blocked artery and inflated to widen it for better blood flow, Dr. Gurbel said.
“That was a big deal,” Dr. Gurbel said. “Now it’s a procedure that’s widely performed, but that was an exciting time.”
The move — a risky one because it entailed temporarily blocking blood flow to the patient’s heart — illustrated Dr. Singleton’s courage as a medical leader, said Dr. Gurbel, who was a medical student working with him on the case.
“But he also had great caution when he was doing it,” Dr. Gurbel said. “We didn’t really know how long it had to be inflated to be successful. He would only leave it inflated for 10 seconds, all that was necessary.”
It worked. The patient made a full recovery, Dr. Gurbel said.
“It speaks to how he did all of his procedures,” he said. “He took on the most complicated patients, and he did it with extreme care and brilliant judgment.
The University of Maryland named the Robert T. Singleton Cardiac Interventional Laboratory in his honor in 1988.
The son of John Henderson Singleton, a railroad employee and insurance agent, and Florence Belle Tiffany Singleton, a schoolteacher, Robert Tiffany Singleton was born in Meadville, Pa., and raised in Reynoldsville, Pa.
He moved to Baltimore in 1941 to work at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. and enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University before enlisting in the Navy and serving from 1944 to 1946.
Dr. Singleton earned the Pacific Theater Ribbon and the American Defense Ribbon serving aboard the light cruiser USS Birmingham, according to his family. He was honorably discharged after the war.
He finished his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1951 and earned a degree at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1953.
Dr. Singleton met his wife of 60 years, Elizabeth Greening Rohr, then a nursing student, as an undergraduate. They married in 1949 and worked together at the University of Maryland from 1980 to 1991, when they retired.
The couple lived for 40 years in the Ten Hills neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore before moving to Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville in 2006. Elizabeth Singleton died in 2010.
They loved classical music, particularly opera, and were patrons of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Opera Company; they also attended opera screenings at local movie theaters, their son said.
Dr. Singleton’s other hobbies included sailing and playing bridge. He grew up a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, then later adopted the Baltimore Orioles as his favorite baseball team, his son said.
His bow ties were as ever-present as his optimism, infectious smile and laugh, his son said.
“He always had a positive outlook on life,” his son said. “I not only lost my dad, I lost a good friend.”
When a physician told Dr. Singleton after retirement that he needed more exercise, he took up bicycling — and routinely rode 10 to 20 miles. Dr. Singleton was a devout Christian who drove himself to church at St. Andrew’s Christian Community, where he was an ordained elder, in North Roland Park every Sunday until a week before his death.
“If there was ever an example of a good, well-rounded Christian gentleman, it was Dr. Singleton,” said the Rev. Ernest Smart, pastor at St. Andrew’s. “He was a man of faith, a very people-oriented person, very caring, with a great sense of humor.”
He called Dr. Singleton a “recycled teenager,” in that he had a boundless enthusiasm for life and never seemed to consider himself a nonagenarian.
“He always had a cheerful word for everybody, and I think this is what endeared people to him,” Mr. Smart said.
Dr. Singleton was an associate professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and a member of the Maryland Heart Association, the Southern Medical Association and the University of Maryland Medical Alumni Association, for which he served as president from 1978 to 1979.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at Charlestown, 715 Maiden Choice Lane.
In addition to his son, he is survived by another son, Richard G. Singleton of Ellicott City, and five grandsons. Dr. Robert T. Singleton “was a doctor’s doctor,” said one of his sons.